Chinese underwear, unlike outer garments, which were strictly governed by ritual and rank, offered a private room for women to pursue their individualities. All women, regardless of social standing, rich families or humble birth, treated underwear as a medium of self-expression.

Chinese underwear, unlike outer garments, which were strictly governed by ritual and rank, offered a private room for women to pursue their individualities. All women, regardless of social standing, rich families or humble birth, treated underwear as a medium of self-expression.

 

1. The History of Underwear in Different Dynasties

 Just as outer garments, women's underwear was also strongly influenced by the social economy and politics, social beliefs and values, as well as people's understanding towards life and beauty in different dynasties.

1.1  Before Han Dynasty

Before Han Dynasty, the underwear was called "Xieyi", which was a tunic-style undergarment. "Xie" in Chinese means "frivolity", "undignified". The term "Xieyi" implies ancient Chinese evasive attitude towards even the mention of underwear at that time.

1.2  Han Dynasty

 During Han Dynasty, "baofu" and “xinyi” were the most common underwear, both of which were single-pieced underwear that exposed one's back completely, "baofu" in Chinese literally means "cover the belly". It was a piece of cloth with laces that could be fastened together to cover the belly, with the end up to the chest. While "xinyi" had a "dang", instead of laces, a sleeveless jacket that could cover the chest, with the end down to the belly.

Though both "baofu" and "xinyi" could cover the chest and belly, the emphasis points were different, for baofu was mainly designed to cover the "belly", while "xinyi" was used to cover the chest. Thin silk was the main fabrics. Flower patterns in underwear were embroidered with colorful treads, the theme of which usually was "love" in Han Dynasty

 1.3 Wei and Jin dynasties

"Liangdang" appeared in Wei and Jin dynasties. "Liangdang" literally means "two pieces of cloth". Unlike previously single-pieced underwear, it had two-pieces which could cover the chest and the back. It was said that "Liangdang" was introduced into the central plains by nomads from northern China where it was much colder than in southern China. So the underwear was usually thick and had doubled-layers with cotton inside. A brocade of rich colors was the main material.

 1.4 Tang Dynasty

As one of the most important dynasties in Chinese history, Tang dynasty's prosperous economy, brilliant culture and tolerant politics had a great influence on the change of costume. The underwear in tang was more innovative and bold than that in previous dynasties. "Hezi", the first lace-less underwear invented at that time. Women in tang dynasty preferred to wear translucent dresses which exposed the neck, shoulders and upper-half the breasts, making laces redundant. Instead, buttons were fastened in the front to fasten the "Hezi", a piece of cloth that swathed the breasts and back. It was made from a heavy, elastic fabric, making a better visual effect for the breasts.

 1.5 Song dynasty

 "Moxiong" or Tube Top in the above picture in song dynasty was much more conservative compared to Tang dynasty. The single-pieced underwear could cover both the breasts and belly. "Moxiong" was usually made of cotton or silk. In common families, cotton "Moxiong" was widely used, while in rich families, "Moxiong" made of high quality silk with flower patterns embroidered was very popular. It was reported that, one double-layered "Moxiong", made of thin silk, was excavated at a tomb in the Fujian Province. Nowadays "Moxiong" are still favored by many Chinese women as undergarment with its style and design different from the ancient "moxiong", but the design concepts are similar(see above).

 1.6 Yuan dynasty

"Hehuanjin", which alludes to seduction and sex in Chinese, was the popular underwear in Yuan dynasty. It was fastened by a lineup buttons in the front and two cross-connecting bonds at the back. This exposed a lot of skin. "Hehuanjin" was usually made of thick brocade with square continuous flower pattern.

 1.7 Ming Dynasty

In the Ming Dynasty, there was a new style of underwear called "Zhuyao". Literally, "Zhu" in Chinese means "fasten"; "yao" means waist. This is a very vivid word to describe the function of the underwear.

"Zhuyao" resembled a jacket, with three laces at each side near the waist to be fastened and adjusted to show off the body curves. It is thus obviously that, women in Ming Dynasty emphasized the beauty of body curves and knew how to achieve this effect.

1.8  Qing Dynasty

 "Dudou" or bellybands were widely worn by women as well as little children in Qing Dynasty. Speaking of ancient Chinese underwear, most people think of "dudou", for it has become the representative of ancient Chinese underwear and the ancient costume culture. It still has a significant impact at today's underwear industry even the costume industry.

Usually, a bellyband is made into a diamond shape, with laces near the neck and the waist to be fastened and to shape the curves. Sometimes gold chains instead of laces were used by rich families, while silver and copper chains were accepted by the middle-class families. The lower part of bellyband was an inverse triangle to cover the belly. "Dudou" had diverse patterns and themes. Patterns of tigers, scorpions, snakes and geckos were embroidered to ward off evil spirits. Legends and customs were usually adopted to express the theme, for example, a pair of mandarin ducks expresses the love theme.

 

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